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16 March 2012


Oedipus The King
Old Court Theatre, Chelmsford
Friday 16th March 2012

This well known Greek tragedy by Sophocles gets an awkward re-working this week as the Theatre Workshop's latest brave step into unusual waters.

Some traditional Greek devices were kept, a Greek chorus being the most obvious, but the co-Director's decisions to incorporate brash modernisations did not always sit comfortably.  A more confident interpretation may have modernised the piece in full, or may have gone the other way and delivered a fully traditional Greek tragedy, but instead of elements of both we really ended up with neither.

This confused Direction means one can forgive the cast some of their awkwardness - we are told in the programme that the company had to deal with some last minute cast changes too - and they did very well with learning the wordy Berg & Clay translation, with some enormous passages for the lead characters.  However, when one character is going to be delivering such a lot of dialogue at once, more light and shade is needed to make the passages interesting.  This critisism does not apply to all of the actors, with particular credit to Karen Pemberton's doubled roles of Teiresias and Messenger, and Ben Fraser's Kreon, who both used their voices well, and found interesting characters to portray within the verbose text.

A courageous choice for CTW to try, and the hard work that went into this production was evident, but it simply did not hit the mark.


  1. A considered and well-argued review. I certainly agree about the translation - couldn't decide whether to be poetry or not.

  2. Firstly, I would like to thank you for taking the time to review the play, and for attending what was, for us a brilliant week.

    I am sorry that the production did not meet your personal expectations.

    However, having read your review, and as one of the co-directors I feel I must respond as I disagree with some of the points that you have made.

    I do not agree that the modernisations were brash. Many have commented on the atmospheric opening, which clearly sets the scene in Thebes, with topical images incorporated at the beginning of the play. Yes, we brought the play up to date, but brash - certainly not. I find it hard to agree with that point when the review clearly encourages us to go even further with modernisation. I would also add that the version of the play that we used was one of the most modern translations in existence. I'm not quite sure what you review is referring to when you state that we should have gonefor a full modernisation. Are you suggesting that as directors we should have sat down and translated the entire script before production?

    It was never our intention to go for a 'traditional' feel, only perhaps ocassionally nodding towards some traditional aspects. There was certainly no confusion as to what we were trying to achieve.

    I also cannot agree with your description of the cast as 'awkward'. As is the case with Greek tragedy, there are many nondescript passages which move the story along to its eventual conclusion. These passages, were allocated to brand new characters that we had created, to give a clearer feel to how the people of Thebes were feeling. Each actor inhabited those roles with great skill, and on our talkback evening (the same night that you attended)we had some very kind comments about how every member of the chorus remained in their clearly defined characters throughout the entirety of the performance. I also disagree that the passages are 'enormous', no more so than anything that can be found in the works of Shakespeare.

    I do agree with your comments regarding Karen and Ben, however I feel that each and every actor inhabited their characters well, and they layered and added to them during the rehearsal period.

    I am proud of every single member of the cast and crew who worked so very hard to make this production a success.

    I thank you for your review, and understand that you are entitled to your opinion. However, as one of the directors, I had to respond to the comments that you made above.

    Many Thanks


  3. Thank you for your comments Dean. I would, of course, expect you to disagree wih a critisism. I am sure you received a wide range of feedback for your hard work, and I hope you continue to choose adventurous and unusual productions to Direct in future.

  4. Interesting. I attended the same performance as Laura and although we had only the briefest of chats on departing it was clear that we had slightly opposing views. I therefore feel obliged to add my two-penneth, if only for balance.

    The first thing I should probably say is that this wasn't a play I was over excited about seeing despite some suggesting that I have a preference for downbeat drama. However I was gripped immediately by the opening music and images. I thought the (was it Muse?) track used was brilliantly atmospheric and worked really well with the harrowing videos and sub-titles. I agree that some of the speeches were quite verbose but I never felt that they were delivered awkwardly and my attention certainly didn't wander. Unfortunately I have since binned my programme and cannot remember every actor's name but in addition to those that Laura has already mentioned I was particularly impressed by Oedipus himself and also Sarah Chandler.

    I don't agree that the direction was confused - it certainly never came across that way to me. Yes, some aspects of it were unusual and certainly wouldn't be to everyone's taste but I think it came across that what was happening on stage was what the directors wanted.

    Theatre is obviously all about opinions and that's part of what makes it so magical. The fact that we all have different ones and are still talking about the play a week later, rather than having dismissed it from our minds is surely a good thing.

    Well done Dean & Kat,